Are there harmful chemicals in shaving cream?

shaving cream
What's lurking in your shaving cream of choice? See more personal hygiene pictures.

Since man first started scraping his face with sharp rocks and shells in order to remove hair, he has been on a quest to do so with less pain. Not many men look forward to shaving because it can be so harsh on the face. Unfortunately for most men, it's a fact of life that has to be dealt with on a regular basis, sometimes every day.

One of the advances in shaving comfort came with shaving soap, which later morphed into shaving cream. For many years, shaving cream was puffy and dense and came out of a can that looked like a barber pole. While that popular brand is still around for the old school set, there are now many alternatives that range from a gel that turns in to a cream to expensive oils and lotions that all accomplish the same goal -- to soften the face for shaving.


There are also options when it comes to the ingredients in shaving cream. Like most store-bought products, the most popular shaving creams are less expensive and filled with ingredients you probably can't pronounce. As the price goes up, the ingredients become more pure and the product becomes better for your skin. So, are these unpronounceable ingredients harmful chemicals? It's worth a look -- after all, what you put on your body is just as important as what you put into it. Let's get to the bottom of whether or not they do more harm than good when it comes to your skin.



Beneficial Ingredients in Shaving Cream

The role of shaving cream is to provide a buffer between the rough old razor and your delicate facial skin. The cream acts as a sort of spackle that gives the razor some glide rather than getting caught on bumps and hairs. Ideally, the cream will also cleanse and moisturize. So, what skin-loving ingredients should you be looking for in your shaving cream?

Water is the main ingredient in all creams, and a lot of high-quality creams contain soothing herbal infusions. They're usually listed at the head of the ingredients list, right next to the water. Chamomile is a great shaving cream ingredient because it's a natural anti-inflammatory and is well-known for its skin calming properties. Aloe is another excellent inclusion because it's very soothing and healing to your skin. Also, look for glycerin, which is a humectant that draws water into your skin to help keep it moisturized.


Herbal extracts are also ever-present in good quality creams. Marshmallow extract comes from the marshmallow root (the plant, not the puffy confection) and is a natural anti-irritant and anti-inflammatory, which helps keep razor burn at bay. Evening primrose extract is another anti-inflammatory that also helps ease itchiness. Calendula extract, which is just a fancy word for the common marigold, is helpful at easing the discomfort from minor burns and cuts, which are common during shaving.

You'll also want to look for a shaving cream formula that contains moisturizing tree nut oils like soybean, sesame, olive and coconut. These natural oils are great for keeping facial skin soft and supple. And as far as scent goes, keep an eye out for all-natural essential oils. These scented oils are plant-based, so they not only smell great, they serve a function as well. Peppermint oil is common in shave creams and provides a nice tingle at the end of your shave. Cinnamon oil has a pleasant aroma and actually helps lift the hair for a really close shave. And if you want to call up your inner lumberjack, cedarwood has a nice, mellow, woodsy scent.


Harmful Ingredients in Shaving Cream

shave at the barber
Be conscious of what you put on your face -- and who you let shave you.

As far as mass market shaving creams go, there's a pretty standard recipe that you'll find across the board. These shaving creams consist of about 80 percent water, and the rest of the ingredients do the jobs of lathering up on the face, binding the lathering ingredients to the water and propelling it out of the can. Unfortunately, many of these shaving creams feature more harmful ingredients than beneficial ones. Here's what to keep an eye out for.

Propolene glycol is a humectant like glycerin, but unlike glycerin, it's more frequently found in antifreeze and brake fluid. Triethanolamine, better known as TEA, is an emulsifying agent, meaning it helps keep the oil and water from separating. It's also a very controversial ingredient in the cosmetic industry because not only is it a skin irritant, but many formulas containing TEA are found to be contaminated with nitrosamines, which are linked to cancer. Sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulphate (SLES) are two more controversial skincare ingredients. These make a great lather, but they also have a number of health implications. Lauryl mimics estrogen, which is especially problematic for women, and laureth often hosts a known carcinogen called dioxane.


On the moisture front, an oil that will frequently pop up in shaving creams is mineral oil. This is something you definitely don't want to put on your face. Mineral oil is a byproduct of petroleum. Yes, that's right -- gasoline. It sits on top of the skin, which locks in moisture, but it can also block your pores. You're better off sticking with oils that are derived from nature, so look for plant-based oils. You're also better off avoiding formulas that contain synthetic colors and fragrance oils. Both of these ingredients have been found to be highly irritating.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Brain, Marshall. "How Shaving Works.", 2010.
  • "Guide to Less Toxic Products.", 2010.
  • "Harmful Ingredients List.", 2010.
  • "Men's Grooming Products Guide.", 2010.
  • "Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES). The Killers in your bathroom?", 2010.
  • "Triethanolamine.", 2010.
  • "What is Mineral Oil?", 2010.